Though the media is currently in a complete state of frenzy over the events in Charlottesville, pardoning of Joe Arpaio and major changes at the White House, the situation with North Korea remains as high stakes as ever. It’s no secret that President Trump has come out strongly against Kim Jong-un and his authoritarian regime. Trump threatened “fire and fury” against any unfriendly action from North Korea, stating North Korea “better get their act together or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble.”
In response to his comments, Trump has received mixed reviews. Critics worry that he is too provocative and that an irrational dictator like Jong-un will not respond by backing down but rather with violent force. Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, appreciate his strength and zeal in contrast to the “strategic patience” of the Obama administration. In analyzing whether Trump’s intimidating rhetoric will serve as an effective deterrent for the communist regime, it may prove helpful to take a look at the actions of the presidents that came before him.
The Clinton administration seemed somewhat successful initially in dealing with North Korea. After Pyongyang threatened to abandon their commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Clinton successfully established the Joint Framework Agreement. Under this agreement, the U.S. promised $4 billion in benefits to North Korea if it agreed to halt its nuclear program. However, shortly after the agreement was signed, the Republicans took control of Congress and refused to pass it. Members of the GOP viewed the agreement as appeasement and favored a zero-tolerance policy toward North Korean nuclear development. It turns out the Republicans were correct in their assumption that the dictatorship could not be trusted to adhere to any agreement, as a few years later, North Korea admitted it had been secretly conducting a nuclear-weapons program.
Trump has been singled out for his emblazoned rhetoric toward Jong-un and his regime, but George W. Bush made use of threatening rhetoric as well. Bush named North Korea as one part of the three-part “axis of evil,” a move that surprised and incensed Pyongyang. Despite his use of strong language, Bush attempted diplomacy with North Korea in a similar manner as Clinton. The Bush administration reached an agreement to send $400 million in fuel, food, and other aid in exchange for then leader Kim Jong-il shutting down the country’s main nuclear reactor. Bush went as far as to write a personal letter to Jong-il, expressing his hope that the agreement would stay in place, but shortly after the agreement was made, North Korea launched a rocket and the agreement fell apart. Moving forward, with focus on the Middle East, the Bush Administration did not put much further effort into the North Korean problem.
After a nuclear test in 2009, President Obama sent an envoy to North Korea and asked Kim Jong-il to begin denuclearization talks. However, nothing came of this interaction, and no major moves were made. In 2012, Kim Jong-un claimed he would halt nuclear tests in exchange for food aid, but this turned out to be a bluff. The Obama administration attempted an economic strategy to choke the North, imposing sanctions on coal exports. Obama’s actions did not, however, prove effective. Over the course of Obama’s presidency, North Korea conducted four nuclear tests without any apparent repercussions. Obama avoided confrontation with “strategic patience,” which didn’t work. In 2014, Obama threatened that the “U.S. will not hesitate to use military might,” and in 2016, he said that there would be “consequences” for North Korea. Obama didn’t, however, deliver on these comments and world opinion was that Obama was unlikely to carry through on any act of military strength which is why so many of our enemies grew in strength under the Obama Administration.
Trump’s critics purport that economic sanctions would be more effectual in deterring North Korea than military action, but it remains uncertain whether such sanctions would be effective. Seven rounds of UN sanctions have been attempted over the past eleven years, and not one has worked. The communist state is well aware that it is both outmanned and outgunned. Trump’s comments are indeed inflammatory, but perhaps it is this kind of rhetoric that we need to prove to North Korea that if they continue making nuclear weapons, there will be consequences. As Ronald Reagan once said, “America has never gotten in a war because we were too strong”. Trump’s rhetoric in this instance actually serves to our advantage because though our opponents could predict what Obama would do, they do not know what Trump might do and when you’re going up against the most powerful military force in the history of the world, that one fact should prove to be a very effective deterrent.
About the Authors: This article was co-written by Chris Reid and Katie Pickle. Mr. Reid is general practice attorney in Birmingham, Alabama. He has worked for Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and was a health policy advisor to the governor of Alabama. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 205-913-7406. A description of his practice areas is available at www.reidlawalabama.com. Katie Pickle is a law clerk at the Reid Law Firm and a 1L student at Emory University School of Law.
This article was originally published on Yellowhammer News. It may be viewed here.